Labels We Love – United Artists

Electric Light Orchestra – On the Third Day – The British Imports Are Made from Dubs


Sonic Grade: F

It’s obvious, or should be, that the Brit vinyl is made from sub-generation copy tapes. The imports sound like someone threw a blanket over your speakers. We know this because we had a bunch of them cleaned up for our shootout many years ago and they all sucked.

We tend to buy Electric Light Orchestra records on import vinyl; those are the ones that often sound the best. Many of the domestic pressings sound as though they were mastered from dub tapes.

But On The Third Day is proof that this is not always the case, just as Siren proves that the best Roxy Music albums are not always British. (more…)

Gerry Rafferty – City To City


A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

The BEST SOUNDING City to City to EVER hit our site — White Hot on side one backed with a nearly White Hot side two, which means that the chances of finding an overall better sounding copy than this are vanishingly small, even for us.

In addition, we are especially delighted to report that not only is the sound better than ever, the music is too. The album as a whole, unlike so much of what came out in 1978 (Do Ya Think I’m Sexy asks Rod Stewart, followed by stony silence) does not seem to have dated in the least, with the possible exception of the big hit Baker Street, which is arguably somewhat over the top but still works for what it is — a radio-friendly folk pop song with a compelling narrative. Both sides come with the kind of rich, sweet, classically British Tubey Magical sound that we love here at Better Records.

In case you have never had the misfortune to play one, the original domestic pressings, mastered at the usually reliable-for-sonics Artisan, are an absolute disaster. From an audiophile point of view they are all but unlistenable. (more…)

Traffic – John Barleycorn Must Die – Our Shootout Winner from 2012


A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame. 

This White Hot Stamper side one is OUT OF THIS WORLD — the new KING for this album! We played a huge number of pressings — Pink Labels, United Artists originals and reissues — and this side one was completely UNMATCHED. What put it in a league of its own? BIG ENERGY for one thing. Side one of this copy was jumping out of the speakers in a way that took us completely by surprise. We had a dozen clean copies, that’s 24 sides, and this was the only one that showed us just how lively and clear that side one master tape must be.

What to Listen For – Side One

We learned something new this time around, and we learned it by simply playing an amazingly transparent copy that made it clear — for the first time — exactly what Winwood was doing on the piano with his left hand. There are two musical figures that alternate: one, involving the lower notes, which tend to be blurry, obscured and murky on most pressings, followed by two, the right-handed higher notes, which are usually much more clear and audible in the mix.

Out of the twelve copies we played no other copy let us “see” the bass notes of the piano so clearly and correctly. Next time you want to compare different pressings of Barleycorn, pay special attention to the lower notes of the piano on Glad. It is our contention, backed by mountains of evidence of course, that no two copies of the album will get that piano sound the same.

Flute and Snare

The resolving power of this side one is off the charts. The flute (a major element of the music if you know the album well) is airier than ever before. Chris Wood’s sax, which is all over the record, and beautifully recorded I might add, sounds amazing as well, with more body and harmonic texture than we heard on practically any other copy. Note how little processing there is to the sound of his horns and woodwinds; how real they sound. This is unusual to say the least in the world of pop records.

The snare drum sound is powerful, with a good meaty thwack that really drives the music. (more…)

Traffic – John Barleycorn Must Die – Our Shootout Winner from 2007


A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame. 

This British Island Pink Label John Barleycorn has MASTER TAPE SOUND on THE BEST SIDE TWO WE’VE EVER HEARD! It’s also the only British copy we played that could hold its own with our best domestics on side one.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that every Pink Label copy is going to sound like this one. We played British copies that didn’t sound nearly as good as our better domestic late label pressings — some of which sounded surprisingly good and will be making it to the site soon.

The thing we liked the best about this copy was the presence of the vocals. This was the only copy that seemed to put a living, breathing Steve Winwood right between our speakers.

Side one is stunning — super rich and so full-bodied. All of the elements really come together here making this a very musical copy. The drums are punchy; the vocals are textured, breathy, and very transparent; and the sax sounds Right On The Money. There’s plenty of deep, well-defined bass allowing the jam in Freedom Rider to REALLY ROCK! We rate side one an A++ — one of the better British side ones we’ve ever heard.

Side two is even better — it’s the new ALL-TIME CHAMP for this album. The voices are sweet and natural with lots of ambience and virtually no strain. The acoustic guitar is Right On The Money in the best tradition of Tea for the Tillerman, both silky and full-bodied. If you love tubey magical analog, you’re going to ABSOLUTELY FLIP when you drop the needle on this copy! This is big, bold Master Tape Sound — we rate side two an A+++, As Good As It Gets. (more…)

War – Why Can’t We Be Friends?


  • A stunning sounding copy and the best to hit the site in many years — Triple Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • Both sides here are incredibly lush, big and spacious with a huge bottom end, no smear and tons of energy
  • Extremely quiet for this title — Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
  • “Cut from the same cloth as the band’s 1973 Deliver the Word LP, War’s 1975 Why Can’t We Be Friends? is a masterpiece in its scope and breadth.” – All Music, 4 Stars

Low Rider sounds AWESOME on this one. This is the kind of record you can take to any stereo store or audiophile friend’s house and bring their stereos to their knees. Audiophile systems are rarely designed to play this kind of music at the levels it demands, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be. Records like this are the challenge we audiophiles need to make our stereos even better. When the music is this good it’s worth the effort! (more…)

Don McLean – American Pie


A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame.

An incredible ‘Triple ‘Triple’ copy of American Pie giving you amazing sound for the famous title track. This Number One album from 1971 has KILLER sound on both sides. It’s dynamic too — the end of American Pie gets good and loud, with a very solid piano holding it all together.

Beware of copies that are thin, dry or edgy; they take much too much of the fun out of the music.

Full vocals and a big, solid piano are key to balancing the singers and musicians correctly.

Tubey Magical guitars can be heard on the better copies of course. This is 1971 after all: they still remembered how to get that sound on tape. On the better side ones, Vincent can have rich, sweet, harmonically correct guitars to rival the best recordings from that era.

A little smear, thickness or opacity is not the end of the world — lots of very enjoyable records from 1971 have such issues and they still sound right. Tapestry, Mud Slide Slim and Tupelo Honey come immediately to mind. It would not be hard to name dozens of others. (more…)

Electric Light Orchestra – Eldorado


  • An outstanding vintage pressing of Eldorado with solid Double Plus (A++) sound and vinyl that’s about as quiet as can be found
  • This pressing showed us a big, lively, musically involving Eldorado, one of the toughest nuts to crack in the entire ELO canon
  • There are some really awful UK pressings out there (and lots of bad domestics to be sure), so if you like the thrill of the hunt, make sure you have plenty of time and money to spend
  • 5 stars: “Eldorado was strongly reminiscent in some ways of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Not that it could ever have the same impact or be as distinctive, but it had its feet planted in so many richly melodic and varied musical traditions, yet made it all work in a rock context, that it did recall the Beatles classic.”

As a result of Jeff Lynne’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production approach, it’s the rare copy that provides enough transparency and resolution to bring out all the elements in the incredibly dense mixes — with strings! – that Lynne favors. But when you find a copy that does, what a THRILL it is. (more…)

Traffic – John Barleycorn Must Die – Listening in Depth

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy of John Barleycorn Must Die.

The toughest test on side two is the first track, Stranger to Himself. Getting the voices right is practically impossible. If the voices are full, smooth, yet breathy and clear, you have that rare copy that actually gets the midrange right. Not many do.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One


The last portion of this track has some really interesting percussion and organ effects. Traffic were trying to break out of the standard pop song format by letting this song wander into psychedelic territory for a few minutes at the end. It’s now become my favorite part of the song.
The reason you want to pay close attention to this part is because it helps you to judge the transparency, immediacy, and top end extension for the whole side. It should be amazingly clear and open-sounding. On too many pressings, the percussion instruments are blurred and lost in the mix. On a Hot Stamper copy they’ll be right in front of you, allowing you to appreciate the interplay among the musicians as they contributed their various parts. (more…)

Electric Light Orchestra – On the Third Day – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This White Hot Stamper Side Two is proof positive that the master tape used to cut the album back in 1973 was right here in the good old U. S. of A. The sound is positively JUMPING out of the speakers, like nothing you’ve ever heard before from this band — especially if you have a British pressing of the album. The sound has real life to it, unlike the sound on the import pressings of the album. Once you’ve played a good domestic pressing such as this one, it’s obvious that the Brit vinyl is made from sub-generation copy tapes. The imports sound like someone threw a blanket over your speakers. (more…)

Don McLean – American Pie

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  • Two excellent sides with each rating Double Plus (A++) or close to it
  • The singers and musicians are balanced by a big, solid piano – this kind of fullness and solidity are key to the best copies
  • The title track and Vincent sound great here, and the vinyl plays about as quiet as we can find
  • “If you’ve ever cried because of a rock & roll band or album, or lain awake nights wondering or sat up talking through the dawn about Our Music and what it all means and where it’s all going and why, if you’ve ever kicked off your shoes to dance or wished you had the chance, if you ever believed in Rock & Roll, you’ve got to have this album.” – Rolling Stone 

This Number One album from 1971 has surprisingly excellent sound on both sides. It’s dynamic too — the end of American Pie gets good and loud, with a very solid piano holding it all together. (more…)